Executive Suite (Wise, 1954)

After flat out disliking The Haunting and being underwhelmed by The Set-Up and Odds Against Tomorrow, I’d made up my mind about Robert Wise. His seemingly simplistic conquests of genre iconography weren’t for me. Yes, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a masterpiece, but of the Wise films I’d seen, nothing else struck me as canon material. That is, until now. Executive Suite, Wise’s fascinating condemnation of modern day corporate tactics reveals a business world Billy Wilder would have loved, where men and women evolve and devolve in terms of story and inherent moral conflict. With a stellar cast which includes William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Pidgeon, and Frederic March, Wise assembles countless moments of tense character study framed by pertinent critiques of the “business as usual” approach still on display by companies today, where the bottom line trumps human emotion. Written by Ernest Lehman, Executive Suite boasts an amazing POV opening sequence (no score introduces character or used at all for that matter) of a businessman CEO named Avery Bullard who inadvertently dies, then sets off a chain of events which send the rats beneath him scurrying for power. His power has swayed over all involved, and the genius of the film shows how each character must break free of the dead man’s legacy in order to start anew. Will it be Holden’s creative Vice President, who’s in it for the common man and scientific innovation, or March’s money man who will take over the company? I never thought business dealings like these would produce such profound moments of heightened response, but Wise crafts each scene to seamlessly groove to the next, creating a hypnotic and slippery slide toward salvation. Executive Suite is hands down the best film about ethics I’ve seen since The Sweet Smell of Success, so it’s no surprise both are built upon two of the greatest scripts ever conceived. Wise’s film is a masterpiece, one that’s so devoted toward developing character in terms of story and setting, you never want it’s joys to end. Mr. Wise, I judged you too soon.

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